What if someone came from Mars and asked about the black tablet that most of mankind cradles to its cheek and whispers to incessantly?
“Is it a god?” they’d ask, “Or a lover?
“No, it’s a phone,” we’d answer.
“We could just as well call it a camera, or a calculator, or a radio. We might call it a compass, or a tape recorder or a TV. We could call it a mirror, a torch or a key. Or the Encyclopaedia Britannica plus plus plus, with all the accumulated knowledge of humanity contained in this object.”
“Well, obviously you can’t know very much if all your knowledge is jammed into that tiny thing,” the beings from outer space would say.
“Oh, but we do!” we’d reply. “It is also a recipe book, a novel, a newspaper. It’s a weathervane, a level, a notepad. It’s a messenger, a menu, an atlas. It’s my bank, where I make and receive payments. It’s a know-it-all who tells me where to go in traffic. It’s a cinema, a playcentre, a city map. It’s anything in the world I want it to be – all I have to do is download an app.”
“So, why do you call it a phone?”
“Because it is. Although truthfully, I don’t use it that often to speak on.”
“Is it your master or your servant?” ask the visitors from outer space.
I think about this for a while. “Definitely a servant,” I conclude.
I’ve declared my independence from it and muted its notifications. It fought back, I must admit. When the beeps were turned off, it buzzed. When I stopped the vibrating, it flashed. It went down swinging, but I think I’ve got it under control. But it’s much cleverer than I am, that’s the problem. It shares, with the young people of this planet, a language I don’t speak.
Today I won another battle in my war of independence. I managed to turn off the pop-up messages that keep appearing when I’m trying to read something else. I succeeded - mostly. The tablet still finds a way to intrude on my reading occasionally. I want to get it down to a state where it will only speak when spoken to, and only impart information when asked.
“But folks will think you rude, when you don’t pick up their calls,” whispers the device, “When you don’t comment on the chat, when you forget one of today’s 14 birthdays. Rude! Ignorant! Inadequate!”
My mother’s old dial phone never gave her all this crap.
I will starve the wretched thing to death! I will no longer feed it at night from the energy feeding cable. It will peter out and die, desperately beeping for attention!
“Whatever happened to Pamela?” people will say. “Been offline for ages. She must be dead. Better delete her.”
The tablet chortles to itself and murmurs, “Now who’s the master?”